Budget Monaco: a penny-pincher’s guide to the principality

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With glamorous casinos, glitzy nightlife and the prestigious Formula 1 Grand Prix tearing around its streets, Monaco has long fascinated the jet set crowd. Home to some of the richest people on the planet, it’s an unlikely candidate for a budget break, but look beyond the bling-bling and this moneyed microstate can be cheaper than you think.

Resist the temptation of sampling a glass of Veuve Clicquot amidst the pastel-coloured penthouses and head to the beachfront, where the glittering Mediterranean Sea flows from the shore like a sparkling turquoise dress. A seaside resort at heart, Monaco has plenty to offer the penny-pincher. Here’s the best ways to experience the principality without suffering bankruptcy.

A panoramic view across Monaco taking in the harbour, the hills and the Prince's Palace of MonacoMonaco has some priceless views that look out across the Mediterranean Sea © S-F / Shutterstock

Wander through a royal neighbourhood

Perched on a rocky peak that dominates the city, the narrow cobblestone streets of Le Rocher, Monaco’s old town, are topped by the Palais Princier de Monaco, home to the royal Grimaldi Family. Built in 1215, only the state apartments are open to the public, and they cost €8 to enter. To gain a free sense of the continued prominence of the Prince, watch the changing of the guard at precisely 11.55am each day. Nearby, the flower-covered graves of Prince Rainier III and Princess Grace can be found at the Cathédrale de Monaco.

Eat socca at the Condamine Market

For authentic local cuisine, visit the recently-refurbished Marché de la Condamine, which specialises in Monegasques cooking and regional produce. The iconic Chez Roger sells superb takeaway socca (a thin, crispy oven-baked chickpea pancake), for a couple of euros each, while Truffle Bistrot, an Italian restaurant famed for its truffle dishes, offers sophisticated meals for scant money too.

The Oceanographic Museum of Monaco rising perpendicular from the seaThe Musée Océanographique de Monaco rises from the cliff face © Anilah / Shutterstock

Submerge yourself in Monaco’s sea temple

Monaco’s long-term commitment to marine studies was initially ignited by the modernist Prince Albert I and the opulent Musée Océanographique de Monaco, a magnificent aquatic museum set in a baroque building that thunders up a cliff, is now a must-see sight. Devoted to researching our oceans since 1910, there are more than 4000 species of fish in the basement aquarium along with whale skeletons, maps and model ships to peruse. Visit in low season and entry is just €11, compared to €16 in the summer.

Swim and sunbathe under blue skies

Located in the middle of Monaco’s new harbour, right next to the F1 starting line, the Stade Nautique Rainier III is an Olympic-size swimming pool with several lanes and diving boards. The views over the masts of shimmering white yachts make this sea-salt pool a wonderful spot for relaxing. It’s inexpensive too: access is just €5.70 for the day.

If you’d rather be by the seaside, the pebbled bay of Le Larvotto is free to visit. Crowded during summertime, the beach is also a great place to visit during Monaco’s mild shoulder months as some of the terraces are open all-year round.

The Casino de Monte-Carlo seen from out the frontThere are ways to see the fabulous Casino Monte-Carno without gambling © Andrii Lutsyk / Shutterstock

Don’t lose all of your cash in a casino

The magnificent Casino Monte-Carlo, made famous in James Bond movies Never Say Never Again and GoldenEye, is one of Monaco’s most alluring sights: the belle-epoque architecture, the sports cars parked outside, the clatter of the roulette wheel. However, with a €10 entry fee and casino chips from €25, it’s by no means a bargain. A safer bet is to have a peek inside the private gaming rooms on an audio-guided tour before the casino opens. Prices start at €12. If you want to gamble in Monaco, the Sun Casino is free to enter and has complementary drinks for those playing at the tables.

Bar-hop by the harbour

Most bars around Monaco’s new harbour boast priceless views of million-dollar luxury yachts moored in calm, azure waters, but drinks tend to be on the pricey side. To enjoy the clinking glasses and Champagne chatter without the need of a bank loan, arrive at happy hour when the young professionals are savouring an after-work drink.

The principality’s only brewery, Brasserie de Monaco, sells pints for €3.50 between 5-7pm. For wine and cocktails visit Le Before, where the large outdoor lounge turns into a dancefloor at the weekend. The legendary Stars ’n’ Bars American diner, which has original F1 racing cars hanging from the ceiling, has swapped its happy hour for a ‘healthy hour’ (think: vegetarian meals, yoga and massages), but drink prices still remain reasonable.

The Japanese Garden in Monaco with a Shinto tea house and red arched bridgeFind an inner calm at the serene Japanese Garden © Fishman64 / Shutterstock

Enjoy the calm of the Jardin Japonais

Created by Prince Rainier III in memory of his wife Grace Kelly, the Jardin Japonais is a miniature Zen garden where water, stones, paths and flowers delicately combine to create a calming oasis. Blessed by a Shinto high priest, there are curved bridges, trickling streams and ponds teeming with koi carp to admire. Entrance is free and visitors are encouraged to meditate in the park’s peaceful atmosphere.

Take in million-dollar views for just €2

For a cheap, whistle-stop tour of Monaco, take the Line 1 bus route which rumbles past the Ferraris, Maseratis and Aston Martins that slowly circle the Place du Casino in front of the 5-star Hotel de Paris. The €2 ride then heads along the extravagant Avenue d’Ostende, descending towards the harbour. Look out for the Yacht Club, which is designed like a cruise liner, before taking in the array of blow-the-bank superyachts moored along the waterfront.

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